Usually, by the end of week 2 we'd have done at least ten dives. This year, we've managed six. Why? We've been busy. Let us explain...
For years now, we've wanted to visit the Big Island. Years.
At first, it was simply to see a real volcano. Real, as in, a volcano that was active and spewing lava.
For a few years now, however, the main reason we wanted to visit the Big Island was the see the July 4th Turtle Independence Day celebration at the Mauna Lani Resort.
Well, this week we got to go. While the July 4th celebration was everything we'd hoped, it was also--unfortunately--more as well.
Ursula, having gone an entire Canadian winter without so much as a sniffle celebrated July 4th with Kleenex and a cold. Peter got to see only half of the day's events because one of his eyes--his right--itched, watered, and burned.
We've had better days.
Certainly, everyone else who was at the Mauna Loa for Turtle Independence Day had a terrific time. We, as Canadians got to see how Americans celebrate their July 4th.
The resort was awash in a sea of red, white and blue. There was Hawaiian music, there was a Senator, there was even a Survivor from Pearl Islands. There was a Scientist, and--to our absolute shock--there was food and drink for sale at reasonable prices!
This isn't why the thousand or so people were there.
This was about turtles.
If you loved turtles, and especially if you were a kid, the best place to be that day was in the lineup at the TOUCH-A-TURTLE pavilion. There, you could hold a turtle (with the help of George Balazs, Hawaii's sea turtle expert).
You could hold a turtle, with the help of George Balazs, Hawaii's sea turtle expert.
This was our favourite place to be too. We got to watch the delight in the faces of the kids, utter delight mixed with a tad of wonder, but to us, it looked like the person having the most fun was George. He knew he was creating memories!
All of us wanted to cheer fifteen little sea turtles who would celebrate--literally--their independence. No more small ponds. No more turtle chow. No more kind people looking after you. No more... safe home.
They'd be released into the Ocean. It was show time!
With great ceremony, each little turtle was carried on a specially decorated stretcher to the water's edge.
With great ceremony, each little turtle was carried on a specially decorated stretcher to the water's edge. Each little turtle's name was announced over the sound system.
A thousand cameras recorded their every move.
Then, each little guy was lifted and then carefully (we'd even say lovingly) lowered to the ocean and... released.
Some youngsters, upon feeling the water, shot along the surface like flying fish heading straight to sea. A few smart ones took a few tentative flaps and then turned back to the beach! We figured they preferred their luxury Mauna Lani accommodations and wanted to extend their stay. (Who can blame them?)
This concludes our July 4th report. Not a bad one, considering Ursula sneezed through most of it and Peter saw only half (in a manner of speaking).
Almost as soon as we arrived back on Maui, we got a phone call from George.
5690 had been reported crawling up in Lahaina. Clearly she was ready to make her fifth nest of the season.
Exhausted from our Big Island trip, we weren't ready for her though. We took a brief walk along the beach looking for tracks, then left quickly and headed for bed. There truly comes a time when you "dig deep" and there's nothing there. Only bottom.
Reports came back that she'd nested, but people weren't so sure that she'd actually laid eggs.
So the next evening, July 6th, we once again got a phone call from George. He said 5690 was "this very moment" up on the beach in Lahaina, nesting. It was only 9 o'clock so we figured maybe, maybe just this once, 5690 would make it an early night.
We grabbed our camera and drove to Lahaina.
We met up with Mary Jane Grady (who'd been babysitting previous 5690 nesting attempts). To our delight, we discovered that 5690 had chosen to nest at the edge of a home with a beautifully lit palm tree and a picnic table where we could sit comfortably!
This was more like it! A quick dropping of eggs while we talked story at the a picnic table and we could go home. Be in bed by 11:30, surely midnight at the latest!
Stupid Stupid Stupid! Here's a slightly edited version the report we filed on that night's nesting:
We met up with Mary Jane and 5690 at Lindsey's house about 9pm July 6th. 5690 was somewhere in the dark working on a nest.
Mary Jane went over carefully several times to check on the turtle's progress. Then for some unknown reason 5690 abandoned her attempt and returned to the ocean. When Peter and MJ investigated, they saw that she had started an egg chamber but then encountered a lot of roots, so perhaps that's why she quit.
This hinted at a long night. We promised Mary Jane we'd stay for "as long as it takes."
Mary Jane urged us not to overlook the possibility that 5690 might show further to the South so we looked for emergence there first. Nothing.
Later (and surprisingly quickly, no more than 15 minutes) 5690 crawled out at John Mallory's house--to the area right under the palm tree (the same place she used in 2002). She didn't even bother digging, however, and left again.
Later still, perhaps 30 minutes, we saw 5690 along the wall where her other nests were. She was to the north of the ropes and started working her way south along the wall. She crawled inside the ropes, all the way along the north-south wall (flinging sand/testing locations) and then turned the corner and headed up the mauka wall.
We feared she might try to go over the wall, as she tried to do in 2002, but she finally settled into digging under the shrub there. She dug a complete nest, right down to the egg chamber.
We could hear she'd hit rocks (coral?) and she couldn't scoop them out, however. She shifted slightly to try another chamber but then abandoned that site altogether.
She headed makai and we worried that she was going back into the ocean. It'd mean yet another long wait, but instead she turned right and inside the ropes, again just like 2002. More sand flinging suggested she was truly determined to nest (as Mary Jane had predicted).
Once she was flinging away enthusiastically we knew she'd decided on the right spot. She dug a chamber and once she entered her egg-laying trance, we confirmed eggs. Egg-laying began at 2:56 and ended 3:11.
As mentioned, this is within the markers set up to rope off nests 3 & 4. She made a deep body pit, so we were worried that she might actually uncover one of the previous clutches. She might have come close, but she did not expose any eggs.
The cover-up took ForEver.
The cover-up took ForEver.
Her return to the ocean was direct and swift. She finally hit the water at 5:12. We hit bed at about 5:45.
Here is what we left out of the report.
When 5690 crawled up to John's house and then quickly returned to the sea, Peter said, "She's doing it to us again."
"She's doing it to us again." This was part lament, part prediction. We'd watch her nest three times in 2002 and all three times we didn't get home til dawn.
Here we were dressed in thin clothes--make that very thin clothes--and no food! (These days, with our fitness regimen we're used to eating every two-three hours.)
Not only was 5690 "doing it to us again," we also did it to ourselves.
People will talk about the magic and wonder of watching a sea turtle mother nest and lay eggs. We were among them (see our 2002 report) but the magic and wonder quickly evaporate when you're cold, tired, and your stomach is churning a concerto that rivals the rumble of ocean waves.
--and you've only sand and a stone wall to sit on.
--and the only place to pee is in the darkness of the shadows created by a rising half moon!
We mentioned none of this in our report for obvious reasons.
We also failed to mention the Lahaina beach night life. The Homeless. Couples making out. This guy cradling a beer can who stepped up onto the wall directly above 5690, then stepped down mere inches from her head.
Whether he was drunk or just a jerk remains a mystery.
We also didn't mention our impatience with 5690. She'd dug a second complete nest right down to the egg chamber, once again stuck rock and roots, and abandoned that nest at well past 2 am.
Peter said something like, "I just WISH she'd get it over with!" Ursula's thoughts exactly.
We both quickly felt shame, however, because we knew that no matter how fatigued and miserable we were, it could not compare to the ordeal 5690 was undergoing.
Poor turtle. She'd expended effort digging two complete nests only to find the bottom unsuitable for dropping her eggs.
When she dug her third and final nest and found all to her liking, she did indeed complete her job. We both observed the large moist round eggs drop from her tail.
We were truly relieved because it meant we (5690 and us) didn't have to do all this again the next night. Most importantly, eggs meant 5690's taxing ordeal was over. She was free of land for at least two weeks.
We mentioned that the cover-up "took ForEver."
We failed to mention the utter magnitude of--sand flinging. Rest. Sand flinging. Rest.
We failed to mention how spent she was. How many rest periods she needed in between sand flinging. How much this all took out of her.
Most of all, we failed to mention how thoroughly this honu mother fulfilled her important nest concealment chore. What a marvelous and careful Mother 5690 is.
Bottom line: A fifth successful nesting. 5690 did her part. We kept our promise to Mary Jane and stayed for "as long as it takes."
It took til 5:12 for 5690 to feel ocean.
It took til 5:12 for 5690 to feel ocean.
An exhausting night for us--but not nearly the exhaustion of digging three nests that 5690 had to endure.
On the Underwater Front, things haven't gone according to plan. Not by a long shot.
We've only made six dives so far--just one last week. When we arrived there was a south swell. Then we were on the Big Island. Then the south swell merged seamlessly with a west swell. Then 5690 did it to us again and we slept the daylight hours of July 7th away.
Either way, we've learned a lot so far.
After four dives (two aren't yet analyzed) we've identified 52 turtles. 40, or 76.9%, are resights. We've seen them in other summers.
Two things stand out.
One: The Fibropapilloma Flames seem to have hit a fire break and blown themselves out. This news is as Fantastic as it is Unexpected.
Of the new FP cases, all tumors are confined to the eyes, and those tumors are small.
Five turtles with heavier affliction have all regressed noticeably since last sighted.
The truly stunning revelation, however, is that of the five turtles sighted with heavier affliction, all five have regressed since their last sighting! There is far more regression than anyone could have possibly hoped for, let alone predicted.
Of the new turtles with large tumors, all of these too, judging from their eyes, look to be in regression as well.
Last summer we reported seeing a very old friend, Kimo, AKA U362, at Kuamo'o--our alternate monitoring site. We'd known Kimo back in 1993 when she had a ghastly load of tumours and we figured she would be an FP casualty.
To our utter delight, we saw Kimo again this week--but not at Kuamo'o. For reasons of her own, Kimo was resting solidly and contently among the crushed corals of our Honokowai dive site!
We saw her on our next dive as well. Kimo has returned to Honokowai! Best of all, she was in a generous mood and allowed us to take almost two dozen pictures. We now have full documentation of her current FP status.
Oh, she still has tumor artifacts in her left eye, and yes, there are a few shriveled tumor remnants on her left shoulder. Still, her mere girth and countenance tell us that she's triumphed over the FP Demon.
Just look at Kimo's face! It's got "honu" written all over it.
Kimo's face! It's got "honu" written all over it.
We'd emailed George Balazs letting him know that we'd retrieve his two remaining temperature loggers. So off we kicked towards North House. Aside from the long snorkel against current and tradewinds, the trip there was uneventful.
We'd hit Shredder's Ridge and then headed makai to Mt. Balazs where we'd placed a temperature logger every summer for the last five years--but things were odd. We saw the plain that was North Flats but no Mt. Balazs. We felt we were too far south and kicked north, and soon realized, there really was no more Mt. Balazs!
It was gone! Disappeared. Wiped. Erased. Missing. Vanished. Pfffft. GONE!
Aliens sucking up the entire coral structure with a tractor beam into their Mother Ship couldn't have made Mt. Balazs any less gone.
Needless to say, so was the temperature logger!
Here is what Mt. Balazs looked like when we first discovered it in 1999:
Mt. Balazs, 1999.
This is what it looks like now:
Mt. Balazs, 2004.
We did manage to retrieve the other logger from The Rock. At least The Rock was still there.
We retrieved the other logger from The Rock.
As one might imagine the email we sent to George Balazs explaining why we found only one temperature logger was... unique.
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 2004 13:13:11 -1000 To: "George H. Balazs"
From: Ursula Keuper-Bennett Subject: You won't believe this but Mt. Balazs is GONE And I mean GONE. DISAPPEARED. I can send you a pic if you'd like. It's of me pointing to a bit of rubble that was the bottom of Mt. Balazs. Needless to say there's no temperature logger.
We didn't see Zeus at all last summer. We've known our cherished friend since 1992. This summer's priority is finding him.
We have to find Zeus.
We've learned that "gone" leaves a big hole.
||Week 3 Summary|
||Summer of '04 at Honokowai|
||Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai|
||Table of Contents|